Dr. Bhairavi Shankar.
My father and I had a wonderful opportunity to visit this student hostel this past May. My father was present at the inauguration of the hostel in my mother’s memory back in January, 2015 but this was the first time bothof us got to see the facility in full operation and meet the residing students.
The village of Thippanampettai in eastern Tamil Nadu is located 2 km away from Manjakuddi, the birthplace of Pujya Swamiji Dayananda Saraswathi. Several temple gopurams (towering rooftops) and green farming fields filled the landscape on our drive therfrom Kumbakonam city.
It was a short but packed day meeting with the students and hostel management. This is an all girls hostel where the students are supervised by Mrs. R. Shanti, a warden who lives there and is more a motherly figure to them.The meals are prepared by a cook who also resides there.
The watchman overlooks the entire property and provides security. Mr. K.G. Shanmugasundaram is the local manager based at Manjakuddi who visits acts as a person of contact between the main AIMS HQ and the hostel. Mr. KGS graciously accompanied us during our visit introducing us to everyone at the hostel and at Manjakuddi and facilitating our overall visit. We met 12 of the 17 students, most between 18 to 21 yrs of age.
They attend college at the nearby Swami Dayananda Arts and Science College for women. They are either first or second year college students majoing in a range of subjects including B. Arts, B. Com, B. Sci (Computer Science, Physics, Chemistry), B. Bus Admin, and Bus. Management. The hostel is getting ready for a new group of ~10 students to join in the new school year. At the time of our visit, they were getting ready for their final exams and were eager to complete andhead back to their native places for the summer holidays.
While most of the girls come from nearby villages, some have moved from farther places like Palghat, Kerala. The initial few moments of our meeting were quiet and shy for both us and the students. But the atmosphere soon warmed up once we learnt of our mutual interests in drawing, singing, and reading crime novels!
At one point all of us were chatting or laughing simultaneously conversing comically in a combination of broken Tamil and English. We certainly looked up to the elders in the room to help translate thoughts. Four hours passed by very quickly! In addition to attending college, the girls also help with everyday chores to keep the student hostel functioning (e.g. help in the kitchen, serve food to one another, keep living quarters clean, study together, etc).
They have several hobbies that they indulge in their spare time. One of the girls loves to draw and hopes to continue to get an Fashion degree; another loves to write, while several either sing classical music or dance Bharatnatyam. The hostel itself is quite big, there is ample space for the students to work, eat, and have visitors. The main floor has a lage hall, with several small rooms, kitchen, storage room, and washrooms surrounding the periphery. Each student gets a locker and ample shelf space to store their belongings, eating utensils, and books. The second floor has a similar layout ecluding the kitchen part. The girls have started tending to a small garden along the main hostel fence with several local types of flowers and fruits/vegetables. They have solar panels on their roof to generate elec-tricity as part of the hostels efficient enegy initiatives.
This is a home away from home. While the students miss their families, they also make new friendships, look out for each other, share responsibilities. It is heartening to see how much joy they enthuse at the sim-plest of things. They are eager to get a college degree and apply their skills towards something they are pas-sionate about while providing financial support to theirfamilies. We encourage you, the reader, to stop by and visit this hostel during your next visit to India and get your own first-hand experience.